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History of the School

World War I

Smith College School for Social Work has its roots in addressing the needs of veterans. In 1918, Smith Psychiatric Training School was founded for the express purpose of preparing social workers to provide mental health services to traumatized soldiers from Word War I. Mary Jarrett, one of the founders of what would eventually become the Smith College School for Social Work, developed a program that brought new knowledge from psychiatry to social work practitioners. Major E. F. Williams, acting chief of the Division of Neurology and Psychiatry in the Office of the Surgeon General, lauded Smith College's pioneering efforts in trauma work, especially since schools of social work in Boston and New York had earlier declined participation, stating that teaching psychiatry to young women was too "radical."


During the national trauma of World War I, Smith College made its facilities available for summer use by the Smith Psychiatric Training School. In 1919, 30 students entered the school on Red Cross scholarships. The original model of summer classroom learning and apprenticeships in mental health settings from September through May set the stage and structure for one of the most unique programs in social work education and professional training. Originally accredited in 1919, the school's most recent reaffirmation was by the Council on Social Work Education in 2013.


Smith has always maintained close working relationships with those who supervise students in their internships by engaging supervisors in the Smith experience and curriculum. In 1930, the first "Supervisor's Conference" was held in Northampton. For many of those early years, the majority of spaces available at this conference were reserved for Veterans Affairs personnel, at the request of the VA.

In order to maintain the role of leadership in clinical social work education that the SSW had assumed, it began publishing the Smith College Studies in Social Work in 1930. This widely respected professional journal of clinical social work continues to be published quarterly, and around specific themes.


The Smith College SSW has not only been focused on improving the lives of individuals but on encouraging social workers to practice within a value system that safeguards the participation of all in equitable social, political and economic change. Because coursework is offered in the summer, the SSW has always enjoyed the ability to attract noted experts to train its students and faculty. In 1939, the school offered its first multicultural course, "Culture as a Determinant of Behavior," taught by the noted social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski from the University of London. In 1940, the eminent Harry Stack Sullivan spoke at the Supervisors' Conference on "The Social Worker and National Defense."

World War II

During World War II, the School for Social Work continued to be responsive to the needs of the active military and veterans. Bertha Reynolds, then semi-retired from SCSSW, worked with merchant seamen and their families through the National Maritime Union.


In 1943, the SSW program was modified to accommodate national needs related to WWII. The then 24-month curriculum was shortened to 15 months, and graduates of the school became employed by Red Cross units overseas, Army and Navy hospitals, USO-TAS units, induction centers, war industry personnel departments and agencies contributing to the civilian morale.


In 1945, at the request of the Red Cross, SCSSW set up a special onsite training institute for supervisors in Army and Navy hospitals. It was also during this period that the first persons of color were enrolled at Smith: six African Americans.


In 1946, the 24-month program was reinstated. In 1947, the school received a grant of $16,000 from the United States Public Health Service to develop comprehensive nationwide mental health programs through research, training and the augmentation of facilities.


In 1948, the Program of Advanced Study, which later became the doctoral program, was initiated. That year the VA provided eight full scholarships for students, and the United States Public Health Service grant was expanded to a National Institute of Mental Health grant of $40,667.


In 1949 groundbreaking work emerged from placements of Smith students at the Winter VA Hospital in Topeka, Kansas, including two studies: one on casework effectiveness with 14 WWII veterans diagnosed as psychotic; and the other, a study on the use of correspondence as a casework tool (which is a crucial component of contemporary narrative therapy). Both resulting theses were published in the Smith College Studies in Social Work.


This period in the school's history was marked by: increasing interest in interdisciplinary collaboration; the expansion of research as an area of focus in social work education; expanded social welfare curriculum offerings; and 4) increasing interest in international social work, including the admittance of students from abroad— India, Sweden, Belgium and Italy.

The school's interest in the mental health issues of veterans did not diminish in the 1950s. Students continued to use their experiences in VA internships for theses, including one focusing on women veterans. In fact, fourteen theses related to the mental health needs and interventions with veterans appeared in Smith College Studies in Social Work between 1950 and 1959.

During the 1950s, the School for Social Work continued to enjoy national prominence. When the Council on Social Work Education was founded, SCSSW director Florence Day was appointed to the Delegate's Council and the Committee on School Accreditation. Both the U.S. Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation and Public Health Services awarded grants for internships in related settings. A quote appearing in the 1959 Smith College School for Social Work Bulletin stated: "The ever-rising number of inquiries (from clinics, hospitals and agencies) requesting training affiliation with SCSSW reflects the school's excellent reputation and is all the more remarkable when one considers that most graduate professional schools of social work are experiencing an acute shortage of field training centers."


The Smith College Studies in Social Work inaugurated a "Research Newsnotes" section to disseminate new trends and source material in social work research. In this same year the first student research awards were presented. During the period of 1953-54, coursework in research was expanded.


In 1951, Erik Erikson gave the keynote address at the annual supervisors' conference. In that same year, several SCSSW graduates participated in the United Nations Social Affairs Program, which advised countries outside of the United States on social work education and program development.

60s, 70s & 80s

The concerns of the Civil Rights Movement took on a major focus at SCSSW during the 1960s and 70s. This, along with reduced funding in the VA system, resulted in a lessened involvement with the VA. However, the school maintained a very important relationship with the VA Court Clinic in Boston, where social workers and the traumatologist Bessel Van der Kolk were among the first in developing the diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For a period of time, a monetary award was given for theses related to PTSD from the VA Court Clinic. The school also had other internship sites that were addressing the PTSD syndrome of Vietnam veterans and their families in the Bedford VA.

In concert with the Civil Rights Movement, SCSSW expanded its commitment to the issue of multicultural practice. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, course work on socio-cultural, economic and political environments intensified, as did work with groups, families and issues of sexual orientation. Highlights of that period include:


Howard Parad, Dean of SCSSW from 1956 to 1974, began his social work career as a psychiatric social worker in WWII and maintained a compassion for those serving in the military, as well as veterans. Under his tenure, other areas of commitment also emerged. In 1962, SCSSW changed the degree awarded from a master of social sciences (MSS) to the master of social work (MSW).


For the 50th SCSSW Anniversary in 1968, a well-known African American social worker, Charles H. Kind, spoke about "Social Work and the New Base for Race Relations." His lecture was also published in Smith College Studies in Social Work.


In 1969, the School received a $140,000 grant from the then U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for minority recruitment.


In 1977, the Feminist Alliance was established at SCSSW, and in 1978 the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Alliance came into being. Both remain active.


In 1979, SCSSW received an NIMH grant of $1 million to finance a five-year program on ethnicity which was terminated early (1983) by President Reagan s cutbacks in funding. Resources from that grant resulted in a major conference on ethnicity and the formation of the "Third World Council" (now the Council for Students of Color). A book written by our Dean Carolyn Jacobs and Dorcas Bowles, MSW '60, Ethnicity and Race: Critical Concepts in Social Work, also emerged from that conference.


The linkages between the school and the mental health needs of veterans continued in the 1990s. Work on becoming an anti-racism institution also advanced during this period.

Many of our alumni went on to play major roles in areas of disaster relief and support for veterans and their families. Dorothy Brier, MSW '54, continues to play a leadership role with the American Red Cross's disaster efforts as the director of volunteers. She played a significant role in the 9/11 efforts. Major Carla Monroe-Posey, who received her doctorate from SCSSW in 1985, became a sought-after expert within both the Air Force and the Department of Defense in developing and implementing family advocacy programs, policies and regulations.

Student research, through masters theses and doctoral dissertations, has focused on trauma and resilience. Two students working in the West Haven, CT VA PTSD Center completed their dissertations on the traumatic effects of the Vietnam War. Titles of a few of the theses included: "The Post Traumatic Syndrome in Puerto Rican Vietnam War Veterans;" "Psychosocial Dynamics of the Persian Gulf War as Reflected in the Media;" "The Impact of Political Violence: Adaptation and Identity;" "Development in Bosnian Adolescent Refugees;" and "Self-identified Adult Survivors of Childhood Crisis: An Exploration of How Attachment Influences Resilience in Israeli-Americans."

Also during this period, Dr. Joan Berzoff, co-director of the doctoral program, co-edited the book Dissociative Identity Disorders: Diagnosis and Treatment that addressed populations traumatized by war and/or abuse.


A comparison study of the developmental impact of combat exposure between adult and adolescent Vietnam veterans appeared in the March 1990 issue of the Smith College Studies in Social Work.


A 1990-91 issue of the SCSSW Journal was devoted to Gulf War concerns. Three of the articles focused on the impact of the war on children.


In 1994, the SCSSW publicly reinforced its commitment to becoming an anti-racism institution. Several faculty members, including Susan Donner, Kathryn Basham, Joyce Everett and Josh Miller, have written about different aspects of the school's efforts, in an attempt to document that journey. Structures have been established to track progress toward that commitment, which is widespread, involving all faculty, administrators and support staff.

The School Today

Today, SCSSW continues to provide a 27-month intensive training program for approximately 350 masters' students and 30 doctoral students who are in residence, with another 47 doctoral students in post-residency working on their dissertations. Students still begin their training with baseline course work their first summer in the program, then are assigned to eight-month internships across the country. They return for another summer of coursework and then go on to their second internship, which is of the same duration as their first.

The school is affiliated with almost 200 agencies in the United States and is currently active in 132 of them. To conclude their studies, students return for a third and final summer session. The SCSSW provides the most rigorous program in the country, and as a result, our graduates are sought after. Many become leaders in their agencies, and graduates of the doctoral program assume leadership roles as practitioner-scholars nationally.

The school's strong commitment to addressing the needs of those experiencing trauma was reinforced and expanded following the 9/11 tragedy and the more recent tsunami and hurricane disasters.

Professor Joshua Miller, Ph.D., does critical incident stress debriefings for survivors of disasters and other trauma inducing events and is a member of three teams: American Red Cross, Emergency Medical Services (for firefighters and emergency medical technicians) and Community Crisis Support Service of Western Massachusetts. He worked for several weeks with the 9/11 crisis teams as a consultant and therapist and has most recently assisted victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. He has published several articles and book chapters about this work and does related continuing education courses here and in agencies.

Many of the Smith College Studies in Social Work continue to contain articles on trauma. The June 2001 issue included an article entitled, "The Plural 'Self': Group Therapy with Bosnian Women Survivors of War." The March 2002 special issue of Smith College Studies in Social Work on "Evolving Theoretical Paradigms for Clinical Social Work Practice," contained a section "Trauma, Resilience and Multi-Theoretical Treatment." The March 2003 issue included an article on "Complex Trauma Treatment in the Republic of Georgia: Stemming the Contagion of Psycho Political Trauma across the Continuum of Care." In the November 2003 issue the Studies published "Crisis, Trauma and Challenge: A Relational Resilience Approach for Healing, Transformation and Change," and in 2005 an article appeared titled "Secondary Traumatization, Burnout and Vicarious Traumatization: A Review of the Literature as it Relates to Therapists who Treat Trauma."

In the summer of 2003 trauma was the main theme at the school's 85th Anniversary Celebration and at the annual continuing annual supervisors' conference.

The school's institutional interest in international social work and trauma has also been evidenced by the collaborative efforts between the New Bulgarian School for Social Work and the SCSSW doctoral program. These efforts include training post-masters' level practitioners to become social work leaders in building the social welfare and practice infrastructure of Bulgaria. The director of the New Bulgarian School of Social Work is a post-residency SCSSW doctoral student who has selected two SCSSW post-masters’ practitioners to participate in the Bulgarian doctoral program. Faculty from the school have also taught at the New Bulgarian School of Social Work.

In April 2005, Professor Kathryn Basham was appointed to a committee supported by the Institute of Medicine, within the National Academies of Science in Washington, D.C. This Committee, titled “Gulf War and Health: Physiologic, Psychologic and Psychosocial Effects of Deployment Related Stress,” is charged with a congressional mandate to explore the effects of deployment related stressors on soldiers and veterans from the Gulf War as well as those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Masters-level courses currently offered which address clinical issues and trauma include, "Clinical Practice with Traumatized Children" and "Families and Violence: A Systemic Approach to Assessment and Intervention."


In 2005 the school renewed its long-standing commitment to addressing the needs of military members. As part of this commitment the admissions office conducted significant outreach to attract applicants from all branches of the military who conveyed a commitment to serving the mental health needs of military personnel and their families after graduation. As part of this effort the school offered a full scholarship covering tuition and room and board to one member of the military.

As a result of outreach and commitment to the armed foreces, in the summer of 2006 the school welcomed four members from the military—two from the Air Force and one each from the Army and the National Guard. In the sumer of 2007 five members attended.


The issues of trauma and addressing the professional needs and mental health needs of multi-cultural populations, as well as the needs of military members and their families, will continue to represent the areas in which the school is committed to applying its resources and advancing its collaborative efforts with like-minded leadership organizations. In 2008 the school sponsored a conference, "Combat Stress: Understanding the Challenges, Preparing for the Return," which was well-attended and received.

Continuing Education Program

In addition to the masters and doctoral programs, the school runs a very active continuing education program during the summer for professionals in the southern New England and New York regions. The school currently also offers three specialized certificate programs: Contemplative Clinical Practice: An Advanced Certificate Program in Spirituality and Social Work Practice, Advanced Clinical Supervision and End-of-Life Care (co-sponsored with Baystate Health).

The school currently has established affiliations with a number of VAs across the country. These include the VAs in Denver, San Francisco; San Antonio; Houston; Bedford, Massachusetts; West Haven, Connecticut; and White River Junction, Vermont.

Extending the Anti-Racism Commitment

Courses have been modified, field agencies have been dropped, new ones added and increased numbers of persons of color are on staff, in faculty positions and in supervisory roles. The participation of persons of color as students also has increased to 19 percent, a solid rate for a school that concentrates solely in clinical social work.

In 2001, the school convened a conference of all alumni of color who worked with students, faculty, administrators and field faculty to review progress and present a report going forward.

For the past decade the faculty and senior administration have met monthly to discuss anti-racism efforts at the school. These discussions have informed curricular and co-curricular decisions.